Emery backing Cutler as 'franchise' quarterback

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Emery backing Cutler as 'franchise' quarterback

Even as coach Lovie Smith was being fired as head coach for failures of the Bears offenses under him, quarterback Jay Cutler was being given another vote of confidence as a franchise quarterback in Chicago.

At least for one more year.

Jays won a lot of games, GM Phil Emery said on Tuesday. I think the important thing is we continue to build around him. That to me is part of the equation.

And as to whether Cutler is the long-term answer for the Bears, that answer is going to come as we move forward with a new head coach, said Emery, whose fate as a general manager now rests very heavily on Cutlers success. Am I convinced that Jay has the talent to be that? Yes, I am.

Ill say the same thing that I said this summer: I see Jay as a franchise quarterback. Weve got to build around him. Thats been the goal from the beginning, to build around Jay and to build our team towards championships.

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Emery did stop short of stating that the new Bears coach will be handcuffed to Cutler the way Emery was for a year with Smith. But any candidate who does not see in Cutler what Emery does will need to be very, very convincing in his job interview.

Im not saying that the new coach has to buy in on Cutler, Emery said. Im saying that Im looking for a head coach that can take all the unique talents that we have and bring them together toward winning championships.

The future in the middle

Emery refused to commit to a contract extension for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher back before the season, with Urlacher coming off a knee injury. But while doubters focused on what Urlacher wasnt (the same as he was a decade ago), Emery was seeing significant progress through the season before Urlacher went down with a hamstring injury in the loss to Seattle.

Urlacher looked a little rusty early in the year, Emery said, which Urlacher himself admitted. By the Seattle game Urlacher had speed and burst back. And Emery was satisfied with how Urlacher also functioned in pass drops.

What makes Urlachers return difficult to gauge is how the new head coach will value Urlachers leadership and fit into possibly a new scheme.

The things that are very difficult to replace for Brian and would be to replace for Brian, if we were ever to move in a different direction, is the leadership that he has and the knowledge base that he has with our system, Emery said.

The three-technique

Smiths defensive scheme relied heavily on a defensive tackle capable of consistently winning against single blocking and generating an inside pass rush. He had that with Tommie Harris.

Henry Melton provided some of that last season and was voted a starter in the Pro Bowl despite a chest injury that took him out for a couple of games.

But Melton is a free agent at one of the NFLs most expensive positions and is coming off seasons of seven and six sacks. Re-signing him will be a priority.

Henry had a good year, Emery said. I know he was probably disappointed because he didnt get to finish as well as he wanted because he had a chest injury. He was productive and got better as a run player.

Offensive line

Emery adamantly defended his offseason actions as far as improving the offensive line but conceded that pass protection needed to be improved. The process last offseason was to look at a thin market for unrestricted free agent tackles (several possibilities were not available) and the decision was made in the draft to add to the pass rush with Shea McClellin and add to the stable of playmakers on offense with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

My though process was, before we went into the draft, to analyze with our coaches and with our staff, weve got two tackles and we had determined that was our greatest need, Emery said. That area will be looked at closely again this offseason.

Emery also stated that tight end Kellen Davis had a rough year as a receiver. Indications are that efforts will be made for an upgrade at the position, with input from the new head coach.

Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

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Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

Sometimes you really do have to just appreciate the attitude. Because Bears coaches do, in ways of significance in what kind of team the 2016 Bears will become.

Ka’Deem Carey has been a backup his first two Bears seasons, yet now finds himself with more games played in a Bears uniform than any other Chicago running back. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick accordingly has set one very lofty 2016 objective for himself:

“Just being a leader, really trying to focus on that,” Carey said during the team’s OTA this week. “We’ve still got a young team, I’m vocal, coaches like the way I run the ball, and sometimes the way I play out there, the coaches like that and want to pass that on to teammates.

“So I’m just trying to be a leader to these young guys.”

Somehow the notion of a 23-year-old talking about setting an example for “these” young guys shouldn’t be dismissed. At all. Because Carey is representative of something developing within the current team.

Leadership is a popular, near-annual topic for Bears teams, no less so early this offseason as the 2016 team takes shape without 40 percent of its elected – and veteran – captains from the 2015 season.

Players elect five captains: two for offense, two defense and one special teams. Coach John Fox names a sixth captain each based on merit from the previous week.

The problem for the Bears is that two of the 2015 five elected captains – running back Matt Forte, safety Antrel Rolle – were not brought back by the organization this offseason. Veterans were added in free agency, but headcount does not translate into instant chemistry, cohesion or leadership.

That falls to a Carey to infuse. Elsewhere, guard Matt Slauson, a popular leader in the offensive-line room and huddle, was released, as was left tackle Jermon Bushrod. After just three NFL seasons, Kyle Long abruptly becomes the offensive lineman with more games in a Bears uniform than anyone else in the O-line room.

Indeed, longevity is no criterion whatsoever for a Bears “leadership” role. Teammates elected Pernell McPhee one of the defensive co-captains last year, his first as a Bear. And linebacker Danny Trevathan, brought in from Super Bowl champion Denver, could emerge as one in his first, using precisely the same calling card that McPhee did.

“I'm just going out there and being an example,” Trevathan said. “It's not hard, you know, I've just got to go out and play the game that I know how to play but also get guys to come along and speak and communicate and be on one page with these guys.”

The key is the “horizontal” leadership concept – leading not from a few at the top, but from multiple strong individuals in a leadership layer.

“Obviously missing Matt Slauson, missing guys like Slauson and Forte, there are large voids to be filled,” Long said. “But this team has been built on horizontal leadership and we’ve done a great job bringing in the right people, defensively, offensively and the special teams unit.

“I love the coaches, I love the guys on this team, I don’t think that will be an issue, so I don’t really have to take on that much bigger of a role because of the guys that we have in our room. Everybody is kind of accountable themselves.”

Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

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Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

The sessions are not mandatory, meaning that Alshon Jeffery’s continued absence from Halas Hall is simply disappointing for the Bears and not yet quite in the realm of Martellus Bennett’s pointed stay-away’s last year.

But as the Bears continue through their allowed quota of organized team activities (OTA’s) this week and through mid-June minicamp, it is evident already that a handful of aspects are different in 2016 from one year ago at this time.

One is a sense of urgency, a practice-speed tempo surprising for this time of year but emblematic of changes within the roster and coaching staff from even the end of last season. Coaches were driving the intensity and competitions, if not technically permitted under collective-bargaining rules, were very much in evidence, unusual for a hot day in May.

The offense is under Dowell Loggains, promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator with the exit of Adam Gase to coach the Miami Dolphins. That is involving an element of re-orientation even within an are still grounded in the same philosophies. Position changes are afoot and even with veterans, there is a learning curve that coaches and players are fast-tracking.

“It’s become clear the last few days it’s a lot different when you’re lined up in the spring and there are trash cans across from you, and then when you’ve got these big, fast D-linemen across from you,” said Kyle Long, doing his own orientation back inside from right tackle to right guard. “There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. We’ve got to gel. You talk to a lot of guys who have been on good teams before and they’ve said, ‘We didn’t really gel until the end of training camp,’ or ‘it took us until training camp.’ So there’s going to be some time to get some of the rust off from a technical standpoint, from a live football standpoint, but I think we’ll be all right.”

Besides Jeffery, linebacker Pernell McPhee was at Halas Hall but not practicing following offseason knee surgery. Defensive lineman Will Sutton was not practicing, but fellow D-lineman Ego Ferguson was practicing after an aggressive rehab program following season-ending knee surgery of his own.

Without Jeffery, Kevin White was No. 1 through the lines for individual reps, and a scramble is developing down the wideout depth chart with rookie speed blurs Daniel Braverman (seventh-round draft choice) and Kieren Duncan (tryout player who earned a roster look with repeated highlight plays in rookie minicamp) getting looks in a group that includes nickel receiver Eddie Royal, Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani and Marquess Wilson, all with NFL experience but few anywhere close to roster locks.

“The effect [of no Jeffery] is that someone else is getting an opportunity to get some reps and that’s a good thing,” Loggains said during rookie sessions. “We all wish Alshon was here. We’re in constant communication with him. He knows how we feel about the situation and him. But it is an opportunity for some of these different receivers that we like to get opportunities and we’ll find out more about them.”

Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

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Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

The Bears announced on Wednesday they have signed former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace.

Grace attended Bears rookie minicamp earlier this month as a tryout player. 

Grace appeared in 32 games with the Fighting Irish and notched 78 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Grace was named to the Butkus Award Watch List prior to the 2014 season, but ultimately missed the whole year while recovering from a broken leg he suffered against Arizona State in 2013.

Following the 2015 season Grace expressed interest in applying for a sixth year waiver from the NCAA, but didn't fit the league's requirements, as CSNChicago.com Notre Dame Insider JJ Stankevitz highlighted.

To make room for Grace on the 90-man roster the Bears waived linebacker Danny Mason.

Mason spent parts of the 2015 season on both the Bears and Denver Broncos practice squads, but never appeared in a regular season game.